Monthly Archives: April 2010

Rego per kilometre idea hits poor hardest

This proposal from an infrastructure lobby group is sure to be controversial:

The executive director of Infrastructure Partnerships Australia (IPA), Brendan Lyon, says all existing road taxes – including registration, licensing fees and the fuel excise – could be abolished and replaced with a per-kilometre charge for motorists.

“[That would mean] moving to a three-tier pricing system, moving to a more efficient way of collecting tax charges across our transport network, bringing a fairer, more equitable system,” he said.

According to IPA’s calculations, the average motorist would pay about 8 cents for every kilometre they drove.

Problem with that idea is that richer people tend to live in inner suburbs and have much better public transport options, so they don’t need to drive to commute and when they do it’s for a comparatively smaller distance. In contrast, poorer people, living in outer suburbs, generally have to commute further and have far fewer, and much worse, public transport options. So it doesn’t sound particularly fair or equitable. And what about country people, who have nothing to do with road congestion but travel more kilometres per year than almost anyone?

It’s the same problem that fare zoning in public transport raises – charging people more for being unable to afford to live close to city centres, where the work is, simply reinforces economic disadvantage. It’s also unfair because although the trips taken by those in the better-serviced inner suburbs are shorter, they’re better covered and can take more of them – for which they pay much less.

In summary, no – the better solution is to improve public transport infrastructure, particularly to developing outer suburbs, so that most people don’t need a car. In Melbourne, at least, the network is already stretched to overflowing. Most people only commute by car if they have no real choice.

I suspect IPA’s motives in this are about as pure as those of the other IPA. I also suspect this will be the last time the tax per km idea becomes the top story on ABC News online.

Oklahoma vs women, disabled babies

The important thing is to make abortion even more traumatic for women:

HOUSTON — The Oklahoma Legislature voted Tuesday to override the governor’s vetoes of two abortion measures, one of which requires women to undergo an ultrasound and listen to a detailed description of the fetus before getting an abortion.

Though other states have passed similar measures requiring women to have ultrasounds, Oklahoma’s law goes further, mandating that a doctor or technician set up the monitor so the woman can see it and describe the heart, limbs and organs of the fetus. No exceptions are made for rape and incest victims.

A second measure passed into law on Tuesday prevents women who have had a disabled baby from suing a doctor for withholding information about birth defects while the child was in the womb.

So – doctors can deliberately misinform their patients in order to impose their personal view on abortion (with serious consequences in the case of defects that actually require additional support and treatment as birth approaches), and take away a woman’s rights to a legal procedure, and women must endure unnecessary and unwanted procedures designed to psychologically scar them as much as possible for daring to exercise control over their own bodies.

Quick vote: which is the more evil measure from an American state this week?

  • Arizona’s racist “papers please” law forcing police to harass anyone who isn’t Caucasian; or

  • Oklahoma’s “make women suffer” and “misinform patients” anti-abortion legislation?

The forces of spite and hatred are on the ascendency, clearly.

UPDATE: For those who are having difficulty with some basic English words:

A baby:

A child:

A collection of human cells after conception:

A right wing d*ckhead who doesn’t care how many women are psychologically scarred by his spiteful new law:

Presumed “illegal”

Outrageous. Contemptible. What else is there to say about Arizona’s stunningly racist new anti-immigration law?

And, by the way, I use the “R” word without the slightest hesitation. The label “racist” is often bandied about referring to unconscious or indirect actions that happen to discriminate against certain groups. But there’s nothing subtle about the Arizona legislation. It is shamelessly, openly racist – it orders police to investigate those who happen to look, ethnically, like what a police officer might assume are “immigrants”. What they look like. So – describe for me what an immigrant to Arizona looks like without mentioning race. You can’t do it, can you?

Seriously, if that’s not “racist”, what is? The state Capitol was appropriately daubed in frijoles in the shape of a swastika:



As Weezil points out – you can’t spell “A-r-i-z-o-n-a” without “n-a-z-i”…

Those from an unfavoured ethnic group have to carry papers or they’ll be fined and imprisoned. I can’t think of any historic parallels to that, can you?

Ludicrously, in the video on Weezil’s link above, Governor Jan Brewer shamelessly denies that the law will be applied against racial groups – even though it’s clearly what her voters are assuming. Otherwise you’d think they’d be just as worried as other groups: if the law applies to everyone regardless of race, then Arizona is now a complete police state, and all citizens must carry papers wherever they go. Including white Republican voters. If they’re not outraged, it must be because they know, really, that it’ll never be used against them. Brewer’s disingenuous claims that “race” and “colour” will have nothing to do with it are not believed even by her supporters. They know they can’t admit that it’s “racial profiling”, because that’s against federal law – so they’re going to pretend that the bill is not race-based whilst simultaneously reassuring each other that they’re quite safe from its harshest effects because of their race.

It’s difficult to believe that anyone could even begin to try to defend this abomination against human rights. Then again, there are a lot of people in this country who assume that anyone seeking asylum who arrives on a boat is “illegal”. Our supposedly “left-wing” government is locking people up in the desert indefinitely without charge on our behalf – and supposedly many agree with them. So maybe it’s not just an Arizona thing.

Good people can support really, really horrible things when they get scared about immigration.

UPDATE: Perhaps Google Maps will now need to implement an “avoid Arizona” function?

A different day

If, as according to all the rhetoric, ANZAC Day is about remembering those who’ve died defending this country (and not celebrating militarism), then shouldn’t we pick a meaningful date from the Second World War, when they actually did that?

Pretending to care about The Houseless Generation

Even politicians have noticed that there’s a bit of disquiet about the ongoing transfer of the nation’s wealth from the young to the old, the poor to the rich, that is the “housing market”. But they don’t want to piss off the boomers who’ve spent a decade and a half addicted to the sweet sweet heroin of low-taxed investment properties, paid for by ever greater numbers of struggling young people locked into permanent renter status. But you can’t take baby’s toy away – he’ll scream and scream until he’s sick. So, try to undo the damage – reduce the huge CGT incentives for those with equity in an existing home to use the housing market as an investment tool, the costs of inflated prices being passed on to the generation who can’t possibly hope to beat them at auction? We can’t do that! That would make a lot of greedy boomers – those who can’t see past their own unearned property-based wealth – very angry.

So this is what we get instead of real change:

Crackdown to help first-home buyers

THE federal government has admitted its new crackdown on foreign investors is an acknowledgement that Australian first-home buyers are being priced out of the market.

The tightening of foreign investment rules require temporary residents to be screened and get permission from the Foreign Investment Review Board to buy a property, sell their property when they leave Australia and build on vacant land within 24 months or sell.

There have been anecdotal claims of foreign investors – especially wealthy Chinese families – ‘stockpiling’ Australian houses and leaving them idle, and of outbidding young people at auctions.

Easy politics: look like you’re doing something by bashing those who can’t vote. (Although not all that helpful, because the Liberals can for once honestly say “that was our policy in the first place”.)

But let’s be clear: foreign investment is not the reason why the market has got so out of control. (That’s why they can only mention “anecdotal claims”.) Rather, the other way around: with Australian city house prices inflating well ahead of any other investment, no wonder investors from everywhere have rushed to get a piece of that action. And those prices have been inflating ever since Howard’s late nineties bribes to the building industry to make up for the GST: halving CGT and the first home buyer’s grant.

So, a couple of points:

  • As long as capital gains tax – tax on income that you don’t actually do anything to earn other than sit on something of value, like a property – is less than income tax, investors will push the prices of houses up beyond what actual new home-buyers can afford. CGT needs to be comparable with income tax, so that ordinary workers are not further subsidising the lucky people with property.

  • The first home buyer’s grant needs to disappear completely – it only inflates prices beyond its value. It was always a very poor piece of policy that transferred public money away from the young and to those who already owned investment properties;
  • Increasing land availability won’t solve the problem while investors still flood the market – they’ve still got a disproportionate amount of money to spend, and will;
  • We do need to encourage the building of new homes, rather than the fighting over existing ones – but this will not solve the problem by itself. Population growth, which has been gradual over the period, did not propel this boom – flooding the market with investors did.
  • If we don’t somehow burst the bubble, we will have a generation that simply cannot buy a home, unless they’re in the very top tier of earners or they inherit property. We will have an unprecedented divide between the rich and the poor in this country;
  • Crime rates will rise – owning property is one thing that greatly reduces a person’s propensity to engage in crime. It gives a person something to lose. It gives a person respect for the value of property. It is a massively stabilising effect on a population. Take that away, leave increasing numbers of people in homes they don’t own, over which they have no control, that they can’t upgrade, out of which they could be kicked with three month’s notice, with ever increasing rents, and what do you think will happen?
  • Homelessness will also rise. The increased rents also mean that, without dramatically increased welfare payments, we’re going to have an ever-growing homeless problem. Centrelink payments simply won’t cover renting anywhere near a city – expect crimes of desperation to get out of hand. Law And Order politicians will respond by locking them up – we’ll have to build more prisons, at great public expense and injustice, and it will become ever more dangerous to walk the streets of our cities.
  • The inflated property market might make homeowners think they’re wealthier, but it’s not money they can use (except to take out another loan) – in fact, they’re punished with higher rates. The only people who really benefit are those with more than one property, and those inheriting property. And they do so at the expense of everyone else.
  • The more out of hand the problem gets, the harder it will be to solve: you can’t push prices back without really screwing over those young people who just took out enormous mortgages to buy a small shack in a swamp in remotest Cranbourne – and it’s not like all that pretend money that’s floating around on people’s rate certificates is actually available to them to use. And of course, the financial industry has locked itself in, to great advantage, but if prices were to fall they’d immediately call it a financial crisis and demand that we, the public, bail them out again. It’s going to be a long, slow road fixing this mess. And the first step is raising CGT, so that it’s not less than income tax: the existing system penalises those who work for a living as against those who sit back and just sit on property. It should be the other way around.
  • Australia’s birth rate will decline, as the Houseless Generation finds itself in increased poverty, unable to find any security in housing and unable to find housing adequate for raising a family. Couples will put off having kids till even later, and will consequently have fewer of them.
  • Existing home-owners who got themselves on the ladder in time and don’t care about anyone else’s family should consider this: do you want your kids living with you ’till they’re 40? They’re not going to have much choice.

I think this is one of the most critical issues facing Australia today. And none of the major parties have the slightest interest in doing anything about it – they’re too busy pandering to boomers’ fears about SCARY IMMIGRANTS. The Liberals under Howard gave us the problem in the first place – and the ALP is too gutless to actually tackle it in any meaningful way. My fear is that by the time the Houseless Generation becomes a powerful enough voting force to be listened to, it will have absorbed the status quo as The Way It Is, and be so resentful that it will resist giving the next generation any easier a time than it had. And we’ll be stuck with this fundamentally broken model, and poisoned society, forever.

It’s a crisis, no doubt about it.

UPDATE 27/4: Tim Colebatch in Tuesday’s Age:

the Rudd government last week reversed its 2008 liberalisation of foreign investment rules on real estate, and set up a unit to ensure the rules are obeyed. It also set up a joint working party with the states to ask why housing prices have soared out of reach. But that will work only if it tackles the single biggest cause: the tax-driven growth of rental investors, whose borrowing has grown 30-fold in 20 years, squeezing out home owners.

Exactly.

These are our two parties. We will protect them.

Murdoch’s media empire really does not want a third party to win:

Last week, the Lib-Dem candidate Nick Clegg—the third party candidate in the race—did so well in a television debate that he began to emerge as the logical alternative to Labor. This has caused the Murdoch papers to unleash a full-scale attack on Clegg—with hardly any pretense other than to help Cameron—now known as the “Kill Klegg” campaign.

In turn, the Independent newspaper ran a front pager yesterday with the headline “Rupert Murdoch will not decide the outcome of the election. You will,” challenging the Murdoch coverage of the race.

Question: is it just that the parties that are rising are progressive parties, parties that aren’t tied to the old media and whose economic policies might actually be less favourable to billionnaire media moguls? Or is it that once new parties get in a position to demand it, they’ll seek electoral reform (like multi-member electorates) such that the undemocratic two-party duopoly is dead forever? Is it that a two-party winner/loser contest is easier to sensationalise to sell papers/whatever comes next?

Australians by now are used to News Ltd’s anti-Greens smear campaign every election, the one that essentially claims that Bob Brown wants to forcibly inject your son with gay heroin and make him marry a queue-jumping muslim tree in order to bankrupt the country. The Greens’ vote rising in spite of everything they can throw at them just inspires ever dirtier and more dishonest attacks – the worst, and most outrageously misleading or untrue, being reserved for the last week when it’s too late to adequately respond to them.

And the Greens are still fighting to get to twenty percent. Imagine what would happen if, like the Liberal Democrats in Britain, there was a hope of them actually winning an election outright in the near future. I can’t imagine what Murdoch’s lackeys would come out with then.

Railways are far too complicated for Australians to build

Silly old Bob Brown thinks modern Australia could conceivably build a new rail link, just because it’s a good idea:

The Greens have renewed their push for a high-speed rail link between Sydney and Melbourne. They are calling on the Federal Government to fund a 12-month, $10-million study to work out the best route.

Greens Leader Bob Brown said a rail link would reduce transport emissions and congestion.

Bob, modern Australia doesn’t build railways. We don’t care that on busy routes they’re better in every way than the alternatives. Instead, we build freeways that clog up with cars and add pollution, regular accidents involving serious injury and worse, dependence on oil, and a whole host of other problems. We encourage freight to travel by road instead of rail so that the Hume Highway can be a death trap of amphetamine-propelled trucks. It’s more exciting that way.


Boring.

Our ancestors may have had the magical power of railway building, but they were smarter people than we are. We don’t know how they managed to line rails of iron across the country with primitive technology – if the evidence weren’t all around us, no-one would believe it. Because it’s completely beyond modern Australia. We don’t build infrastructure any more, unless it’s being given to some private consortium that will gouge ordinary people for the next thirty years or so. In the short term – and that’s the only way we think – airlines will be able to undercut the slightly slower rail network. When the price of aviation fuel rises and air travel becomes increasingly unaffordable, then there’ll be a sudden huge global demand for railway-related resources – and THEN, when those prices are highest, THEN we might get around to eventually building something at vast inflated expense that we’ll then pass on to the public. But that “we” is not us – that’ll be our successors. So it’s not our problem.

Honestly, what is with the Greens and planning necessary infrastructure for our future? Don’t they get how politics works?

UPDATE: Of course, sarcasm aside, we do occasionally build railways – when heavy industry demands it, for example – it’s just that we’re terrible at doing it for actual travellers, where it would compete with the roads lobby and the airlines. (Still, at least heavy industry is prepared to let travellers subsidise their railways once they’ve got them built.)

Who should I be reading from the right?

Do lefties only read lefty blogs? Is it only rightwingers who live in a bubble world?

I do consume right-wing media – I read news.com.au as much as abc.net.au, and their chief ratbag, Bolt, more than many left wing blogs – but, to be honest, the reason is not because there’s a hope in hell of being persuaded by anything they argue. It’s more because they’re endlessly provocative blog fodder; because it seems important to be aware of what they’re selling to the gullible people who believe them.

It occurs to me that that’s not really all that open-minded. If I’m genuine in being challenged in my views, I should find some honest, reliable news sources to the right of me – but not so far to the right that they become mere spectacles to be derided. Just because someone has a more authoritarian, religious-based approach to social issues doesn’t mean that they’re of a sort with the shamelessly disingenuous smear-merchants I regularly decry. Likewise with someone who has a strong belief in the magic of the unfettered free market, the sanctity of the corporate form, and the villainy of the public sector. Decent human beings can, I guess, genuinely adopt these approaches whilst still being actually honest and fair and open to reasonable discussion.

But I can’t think of any such right-wingers. All the ones that come to mind are the same people who have repeatedly demonstrated that there are no depths to which they won’t sink. All of the ones I’ve tackled have revealed themselves to be the sort of people who will try to destroy an opponent’s personal life and offline professional life, purely because they disagree with them. The honest right, the right that could perhaps genuinely challenge our ideas, with whom we could engage in civilised, friendly debate, is being drowned out by the repulsive polemical right, to the point where I can’t actually put a name to the former.

Any ideas who I should be reading?

Salt mines for the dole

The right-wing boomers that Tony Abbott represents really hate the young, don’t they?

We’ll prevent you from ever owning a home, we’ll saddle you with debt to support us in our old age, and when you can’t get a job because of this global financial crisis we left you, we’ll let you starve. Ha, ha, ha.

Phil Naylor knows how much your kids are suffering; wants them to suffer more

This is nice: the financing lobby that has made a mint out of skyrocketing house prices pretends to be all sympathetic to the misery from which it has profited:

A survey of Australians aged under 30 shows they are increasingly pessimistic about the prospect of buying their first home.

The survey of nearly 900 people, conducted by the Mortgage and Finance Association of Australia, showed more than half those questioned said they were shelving plans to buy their first home.

With housing now less affordable than its ever been, with those who owned property before Howard’s house price surge demanding ever increasing ludicrous sums from those who didn’t, I’m not surprised. By filling the market with investors (thanks for halving the CGT, Liberals) and inflating the prices with a “grant” that increases prices by more than its value and is in effect a further gift of public money to the most privileged boomers, we’ve managed to make home ownership for the next generation a matter of blind luck, possible only for the very top earners, and those who will inherit property from their parents.

It’s a national disaster. Nice of the finance lobby to highlight it. How benevolent, to advocate for the ending of something which is clearly worth a lot of money to them…

Nah, just kidding. The finance lobby’s crocodile tears have a purpose: persuading the government to bring back the grant from which they’ve profited so handsomely at the expense of ordinary young Australians:

The association’s Phil Naylor says the scaling back of the first home owners grant is one of the main reasons for the trend.

You lying scumbag, Phil. You’re a representative for the finance industry, so there’s no way you don’t know that a government grant of X to first home buyers enables them to borrow several times MORE than X, and consequently the price of entry-level homes increases by more than the value of that grant. It pushes them further into debt. You know that. But your association would love to be able to charge them interest on all that extra cash. So you blatantly misrepresent the truth for personal gain – at the expense, if you’re successful, of tens of thousands of young Australians.

I don’t know how Phil Naylor sleeps at night.